The Complete Guide to Sleeping in a Hatchback

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Man relaxing and sleeping inside car trunk hatchback in the fall with sunset visible

One of the most convenient and comfortable ways to spend the night in unfamiliar areas is by sleeping in your hatchback. It’s a guaranteed, comfortable, inexpensive way to spend a night away from your house.

In short, you should check the legality and make your hatchback as comfortable as possible. Turn off your car, lock your doors, crack your windows, and fill your hatchback with accessories that can help you in the long run. Make sure you know where your food and water are coming from, and keep your emergency kit on hand at all times.

In this complete guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know when it comes to sleeping in a hatchback. I’ll cover the benefits, some safety considerations, and 15 tips for sleeping in your hatchback.

What Is a Hatchback?

A hatchback is a style of car. It features a trunk that opens like an SUV’s and offers more space in the rear. The trunk is also a part of the cabin, meaning that someone sitting in the back seat can reach back and get stuff out of the trunk.

Grey Volkswagen Golf GTI 2022 outside near the forest in a parking lot
2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Since the trunk is part of the main cabin, the top of the car features a straighter line as opposed to a standard sedan. This makes it easier to spot on the road.

This distinction is also why it’s favored to sleep in as opposed to a sedan or sports car. I would still argue that an SUV or minivan is a better option if you’re looking for a long-term solution — but, a hatchback will work perfectly fine in your scenario.

Why Sleep in a Hatchback?

A few people might be wondering why you would sleep in a hatchback in the first place. Well, I can personally think of a few great reasons.

It’s Convenient

When you’re on a road trip, it’s sometimes hard to predict when you’ll get too tired and which towns you want to find a hotel in. Instead, you can just turn your car into a hotel and conveniently go to sleep whenever you want.

If you’re doing a long road trip, this takes the stress out of booking hotels before even leaving. You can jump in the car, then pull over to sleep whenever you want to.

It’s a Free Hotel

For others, a hatchback is a very inexpensive way to sleep overnight. Whether you’re going through financial hardships or just looking to cut the cost of your adventure, sleeping in a hatchback is a good alternative.

Traveling man stops on the side of the road relaxing inside the hatchback for some coffee and rest

Once you get the car set up, each night is a free hotel stay. If you do the math, this could be thousands of dollars that you save along the course of your trip.

Allows for Easier Cross-Country Touring

I have friends who took career breaks to travel around the country. Three of them used their hatchbacks as their nightly hotel, and they told me how easy it was.

During a trip, a lot of people value the freedom of the open road. When you get bogged down with the responsibility of finding towns to stay in, hotels to sleep in, and restaurants to eat at, it can take away some of that freedom.

Instead, your car can be the hotel by converting your hatchback into a comfortable place to sleep.

Some Safety Tips for Sleeping in a Hatchback

Before getting into ways to make your hatchback more comfortable, I want to point out some safety tips.

Lock Your Doors Overnight

Whatever you do, you should make sure your doors are always locked overnight. There are a lot of bad people in the world, and the last thing you want to do is give them easy access to your hatchback.

Keeping your doors locked means that you won’t get surprised in the middle of the night and you’ll be safe, even if you sleep in.

Never Keep Your Trunk Open

Along the same reasoning, you’ll also want to keep your trunk closed. I understand the appeal of having the hatch open so you can take in the great outdoors, but it gives an opportunity for people and animals to crawl into your car.

Modern hatchback car trunk cargo boot open with a red suitcase near the beach

It’s fine to keep the trunk open while you’re lounging in the morning, but never when you’re asleep.

Check the Legality in Your Area

Some areas have strange laws around sleeping in cars. If someone reports you, you could face a serious ticket or even get jail time (depending on your area and situation).

Before parking and camping for the night, I highly suggest you do a few Google searches to make sure you can sleep in your hatchback in that area.

Share Your Location with Someone You Trust

Whenever I sleep in my car overnight, I’ll always share my location with a close friend. Sometimes it helps just to have someone know where you are, in case something bad happens.

It’s a relatively easy process to do, and it can potentially save your life.

Never Park on the Side of the Road

I want to emphasize that you should never park on the side of the road when you sleep in your hatchback. This makes you incredibly vulnerable and you can easily get hit by a car as they drive by.

Black car parked on the side of the road

A parked car is very dark and hard to see. If you combine that fact with a drunk driver or someone very tired behind the wheel, they can easily veer into your car and smash into you.

Since you’ll be sleeping without a seatbelt on, this could be a fatal mistake to make. Instead, stick to safe camping areas.

Remember the Safe Camping Areas

For sleeping in your hatchback, you should stick to the following areas:

  • Campsites
  • Hotel parking lots
  • Truck stops
  • Walmart’s
  • Rest areas
  • Hospital parking lots
  • 24/7 gym parking lots
  • National Forest Land

Consider Covering Your Windows

It might be a good idea to tint your windows or cover them before you go to sleep. This will prevent people from peering into the windows and spotting valuables, enticing them to break in and rob you.

A cover could simply be a blanket, cardboard, or any reflective surface.

Use the Bathroom Before Going to Sleep

It’s always best to stay in your car for the full night without getting out. If you get up in the middle of the night and leave your hatchback, you might run into animals or people with bad intentions.

Blue rest area sign against yellow prairies with toilet, special needs, and trash symbols

For that reason, I would suggest going to the bathroom right before going to sleep. This will help you sleep through the night without getting up and leaving your safe car.

In addition, you might have bugs hitch a ride on you when you use the bathroom, then bite you through the night while you sleep.

Don’t Keep Your Car Running

Never keep your car running when you’re sleeping in your hatchback. Technically you can idle your car overnight, but I would only recommend that in emergency situations where you’re broken down or need to sleep in a very cold area and you’re not prepared.

If your car is running and your exhaust pipe is even slightly blocked, you might back-feed the exhaust fumes into your car’s cabin. This exhaust has fatal amounts of carbon monoxide. In other words, you can actually die by running your car overnight.

Make sure your car is completely off. Leaving it on “accessory” mode can drain your battery and strand you when you wake up.

15 Tips for Sleeping in Your Hatchback

Now it’s time to sleep in your hatchback. Keep these 15 tips in mind if you want to have the best experience — regardless of your reason for sleeping in your hatchback, it doesn’t need to be uncomfortable and inconvenient.

1. Pick Your Sleeping Spot

Before getting too far, you should decide where you want to sleep. I would suggest against sleeping in the driver’s seat or laying down in the back row of seats. This is going to hurt your back in the long run and it’s not very comfortable (speaking from experience, here).

Viewpoint at sunset car parked water and mountain landscape

I would suggest folding down your back seats and turning the rear of your vehicle into your sleeping spot. With the seats down and the additional trunk in the hatchback, you should have plenty of space to sprawl out. Even a tall person should find this comfortable since there’s typically more than 6-feet of space in a hatchback with the seats down.

2. Make the Space Comfortable

Now it’s time to personalize your trunk area and make it more comfortable. You might want to install string LED lights and some sort of speaker.

Fall car trip in sunset with the cargo boot trunk of the hatchback converted into a bed

In later tips, I’ll show you how to make your sleeping area, but this space is just about setting the ambiance for your trip.

You might even consider getting a USB or battery-powered fan to cool you down while you sleep.

3. Mind Where You Park

As I mentioned earlier, you want to be careful where you park. When you choose a parking lot, I would stay away from the front of the lot, since that’s going to be the busiest. Instead, pick a comfortable and secluded spot near the rear of the parking lot.

Parking lot of a rest stop on the side of the road

You want to make sure outside noise doesn’t keep you up and ruin your sleep.

4. Add Some Entertainment

It might help to add some additional entertainment to your hatchback. Since the car won’t be running, you won’t be able to use the radio overnight.

Instead, you can buy a portable radio, small TV, or a handheld gaming console to keep you busy. Of course, you have a smartphone that you can play on to help the nights pass quicker.

5. Keep Your Packing Light

Remember, your hatchback doesn’t have unlimited space. For that reason, I would suggest paring down what you plan on packing for your trip. You can’t stuff your trunk with stuff because that’s going to turn into your bed each night.

Young happy woman packing her suitcase into the luggage boot of the hatchback car

An alternative would be to section off a small area to the side for your storage, so it doesn’t interfere with your sleeping area. If you’re sleeping alone, then you can also use the passenger’s seat for storage.

6. Determine Where You’ll Eat

Packing meals in your car can get tricky after a while. In “bear country”, having any food in your car can pose a risk since bears are known to get aggressive when they smell food that they can’t access.

If it were up to me, I would only pack granola bars and small snacks in the car. Instead, you can use local grocery stores and restaurants to pick up your meals.

Cooking, plating, and keeping dishes and utensils in your hatchback can get really tricky. If you’re parking in a Walmart parking lot, it’s best to just shop there in the morning to get your daily food, then use their trash cans on-site to get rid of your trash.

7. Get a Nice Sleeping Pad

A sleeping pad is going to save your back during this time. Sleeping pads are made for campers, and they’re relatively thin layers of foam that act like a travel-sized mattress.

Willpo CertiPUR-US Memory Foam Portable Sleeping Pad with Travel Bag – Single – 75 in.x30 in.x2.75 in. – Twin 75 in.x38 in.x2.75 in.

Willpo CertiPUR-US Memory Foam Portable Sleeping Pad with Travel Bag - Single - 75 in.x30 in.x2.75 in. - Twin 75 in.x38 in.x2.75 in.
Willpo CertiPUR-US Memory Foam Portable Sleeping Pad with Travel Bag

Make sure you measure your sleeping area before ordering a pad. If you get one that’s too small, you’ll be uncomfortable each night. If it’s too big, it won’t even fit in your hatchback.

Try out the sleeping pad before hitting the road to make sure there are no issues with it.

8. Keep Your Windows Cracked

I would highly suggest keeping your windows slightly cracked overnight. This lets in a little bit of a breeze, but it also prevents condensation on your windows.

If your windows are rolled up overnight, it will get insanely stuffy. You’ll likely wake up to windows that have a thick layer of condensation and fog on them. You can get prevent your windows from fogging up, but it’s best to just keep them cracked.

9. Consider a Sleeping Bag

A sleeping bag will keep you warm and comfortable overnight. It eliminates the need for blankets and covers. It also allows you to quickly roll up the bag and get it out of the way.

Sleeping Bag – Lightweight, Portable, Waterproof Sleeping Bag with Compression Sack for Adults & Kids – Indoor & Outdoor

Sleeping Bag - Lightweight, Portable, Waterproof Sleeping Bag with Compression Sack for Adults & Kids - Indoor & Outdoor
Sleeping Bag

High-quality sleeping bags can get pretty expensive, but they’ll also keep you warm regardless of the temperature at your camping location.

10. Grab a Comfortable Pillow

I can’t express how important a comfortable pillow is. I have a cooling memory foam pillow that I use whenever I sleep in my car, and it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

Snuggle-Pedic Original Memory Foam Pillows – Made in The USA with Plush Kool-Flow Bamboo Bed Pillow Cover 1-Pack

Snuggle-Pedic Original Memory Foam Pillows - Made in The USA with Plush Kool-Flow Bamboo Bed Pillow Cover 1-Pack
Cooling Bamboo Memory Foam Pillow

If you go for the least expensive pillow on the market, you’ll wake up with a stiff neck and back. That’s one of the quickest ways to ruin your camping or road trip experience. Suddenly you have to drive another 8 hours with an uncomfortable back and neck.

11. Pick Up a Headlamp or Camping Lantern

A little bit of extra light can make your experience more comfortable and convenient. I have a camping lantern that’s battery-powered, and it works really well.

LED Camping Lantern Rechargeable, 1800LM, 4 Light Modes, 4400mAh Power Bank, IP44 Waterproof, Perfect Lantern Flashlight for Hurricane, Emergency, Power Outages – USB Included

LED Camping Lantern Rechargeable, 1800LM, 4 Light Modes, 4400mAh Power Bank, IP44 Waterproof, Perfect Lantern Flashlight for Hurricane, Emergency, Power Outages
LED Camping Lantern

Something that can throw light 360 degrees around the lantern helps a lot as you’re setting up your sleeping area and doing tasks around the car.

It also allows you to sleep before the sun goes down and move things around your car whenever you want.

12. Don’t Forget a Portable Battery

Another great addition is a portable battery. I bought one from Anker a little while ago, and it rarely needs a charge. It has a few different output connections, which allows you to charge things like your phone, laptop, and chargeable lantern.

The portable battery has a long-lasting power reserve. This means that you can reliably recharge your devices even when your car is turned off. Since you shouldn’t sleep with an idling car, this product is one of the best recommendations I can make when it comes to convenience.

13. Keep Your Emergency Kit Updated

I recently wrote a full guide about making an emergency kit for your car (follow the link to find out how to). An emergency kit will keep you alive and comfortable in case something bad happened.

Car Roadside Emergency Kit with Jumper Cables, Auto Vehicle Safety Road Side Assistance Kits, Winter Car Kit, with Portable Air Compressor, First Aid Kit, Tow Rope

Car Roadside Emergency Kit with Jumper Cables
Car Roadside Emergency Kit

When it comes to camping in your hatchback, it’s important to be prepared. I deeply hope that nothing bad happens during your trip, but it’s always best to be prepared so you’re ready, just in case.

For that reason, I would suggest checking and updating your emergency kit. This kit should stay in your car at all times.

14. Have a Reliable Water Source

Water is an important part of camping. Since you’ll be camping in your hatchback, you should find a reliable source of water before getting too far.

That might mean stocking up on water bottles or taking massive refillable water coolers with you. As you go to different Walmarts, you can buy more waters to stock up, but you should always have a reserve in your car.

Running out of water is a surefire way to ruin your trip and land you in a hotel for the night.

15. Get a Portable Car Jumper

I should also offer another product that might help you, a portable car jumper. This is part of a relatively new product family that allows you to jump your car safely without the use of another car.

NOCO Boost X GBX45 1250A 12V UltraSafe Portable Lithium Jump Starter, Car Battery Booster Pack, USB-C Powerbank Charger, And Jumper Cables For Up To 6.5-Liter Gas And 4.0-Liter Diesel Engines

NOCO Boost X GBX45 1250A 12V UltraSafe Portable Lithium Jump Starter, Car Battery Booster Pack, USB-C Powerbank Charger, And Jumper Cables For Up To 6.5-Liter Gas And 4.0-Liter Diesel Engines
NOCO Boost X GBX45 1250A 12V

To use it, you just connect the car jumper to the appropriate terminals of your car’s battery. Wait a few minutes, then turn on your car. Leave it attached for a few more minutes with your car running, then you’re good to go.

This helps if your car dies and there’s no one around to help you. Since there’s no telling where you’ll be camping, it’s always best to be prepared and self-reliant. Waiting around for a passerby could take a long time and put you in an unsafe situation.

Conclusion

I just covered the basics for sleeping in a hatchback. I hope that this complete guide answered every question you had, and I hope you feel empowered and ready now to take on your trip. If you have any other car questions, look at the rest of my blog. Also, check out what car products I recommend — you’ll likely find some that can make your life more comfortable as you sleep in your hatchback.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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